cover image With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today

With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today

Daniel Rothenberg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $28 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100205-4

More than 30 years after activists like Cesar Chavez called attention to conditions in California's fields, this remarkable study shows that the grinding poverty and abuse suffered by America's most vulnerable workers remains a national disgrace. Anthropologist Rothenberg, a former outreach worker and paralegal representing farmworkers, has weighed in with an epic account culled from more than 250 interviews conducted throughout the United States and Mexico. Here are cameo portraits of illegal immigrants, political refugees, ""fruit tramps,"" drug addicts held in debt peonage at Southern labor camps (""Everybody knew about the labor camp. The sheriff, the farmers, and the crewleader were all in cahoots,"" recounts one cocaine user), growers, contractors, human smugglers or ""coyotes,"" migrant children, all of them speaking in their own words. Rothenberg includes unidentified photos, one of the few lapses in a richly textured documentary that evokes both pity and terror, as when the daughter of a single migrant woman in Florida describes how her mother's boyfriend once sexually abused her and how her mother took violent revenge. Rothenberg's book is clearly an indictment of a farm labor system that, he writes, allows large companies to distance themselves from workers. And those workers, despite changes of the 1960s, continue to struggle against abuses, poor pay and a ""special status"" that seems increasingly entrenched. (Oct.)